BEIJING DISPATCH: Track and field highs and lows


By Dr. Bob Elliott

BEIJING -- It was raining on the track as U.S. runners LaShawn Merritt (Suffork, Va.), Jeremy Wariner (Waco, Texas) and David Neville (Valencia, Calif.) finished in a 1-2-3 sweep of the men’s 400 meters.

Merritt crossed the line first with a time of 43.75 seconds and obliterated second place finisher Wariner who faded at the finish but was able to maintain a 2nd place finish with a 44.75. 

The crowd gasped as Neville dove across the finish line and snatched the Bronze by 0.04 with a 44.80. Wariner, donned in newly fashioned asymmetrical spikes for the finals, appeared somewhat subdued and disappointed with his performance as he and Merritt completed their victory lap. 

Merritt won by the biggest margin in the Olympic 400m since 1896.

Oregon Track Club’s Nick Symmonds was a long shot to advance to the finals in the 800m. However, after Symmonds executed a perfectly run race in the qualifying heats the previous day, U.S. fans began to hope he would make it to the finals. 

In the preliminaries, he wisely inserted himself into the middle of the pack from the beginning and used his strong kick sparingly at the end to power through the finish line and win his heat. Apparently Symmonds did not learn from his successful experience in the heats. In the semifinals Symmonds opted to run at the back of the field. 

At 500m he was in last place but began to move up on the backstretch.  As the runners made their way around the final turn he was near the front of the pack.  It was during the last 100m that Symmonds was stunned to discover that the field had another gear.  Symmonds held his pace but the rest of the runners pulled away, leaving Symmonds with a 5th place finish (1:46.96) in his semifinal heat.  Symmonds joined his teammates (Wheating and Smith) on the sidelines.

The Jamaicans continued to delight the audience with their performances in the women’s 200m finals.  Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jamaica), the defending champion, powered around the curve to gain a significant lead into the straightaway and finished in a personal-record time of 21:74. 

Allyson Felix ran a tremendous race but there was no way she was going to catch the Jamaican. She later commented, “The start was terrible and the end wasn’t that great.”  In a season-best time of 21:93 Felix was unable to catch the speedy Campbell-Brown. Kerron Stewart (Jamaica) took the Bronze in 22:00 holding off a fast closing Muna Lee (22:01).

Once again, disaster struck the U.S. sprinters. Fans were bitterly disappointed and frustrated with the men’s and women’s 4x100m relay teams when both of them dropped the baton and failed to advance to the finals.  Both teams were clearly in the lead into the final 100m but flubbed handoffs at 300m. Darvis Patton botched the handoff to Tyson Gay, and Torri Edwards repeated the same snafu in her handoff to Lauryn Williams. This repeat experience must have been very depressing for Williams as she suffered a blown handoff from Marion Jones in the same event at the Olympics in Athens. At least Williams picked up the dropped baton and finished the race.   Although all of the runners are world-class sprinters, their performance as a team leaves much to be desired. The U.S. men’s 4x100m relay team will miss the finals for the first time since 1912.

In the final of the men’s 110m hurdles Dayron Robles (Cuba) soared to victory in a time of 12.93. The absence of Liu Xiang (China) has been noted by all of the Chinese media outlets and has been a major story for days.  U.S. hurdlers grabbed Silver and Bronze with David Payne finishing in 1317, just a nudge ahead of teammate David Oliver in 13.18.

As the men’s Decathlon progresses, U.S. competitor Bryan Clay maintains a substantial lead and is projected to win by more than 300 points.  His teammate, Trey Hardee, has surprised many fans
with his outstanding performance that has kept him in 3rd place. With a heavily bandaged hand, his performance may be hampered later today.  Oregon fan favorite Tom Pappas (former Lane Community College), in his third Olympic Games appearance, pulled out of competition during the long jump with a nagging foot injury.
We are eagerly awaiting the start of the women’s 5000-meter final tonight, in which the U.S. has three competitors.  Olympic Trials winner Shalane Flanagan will be joined by Jennifer Rhines and Oregon’s Kara Goucher and as they continue their quest for a medal.

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